MOONWALKING WITH EINSTEIN: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer is a brilliantly titled book. Seriously, who isn’t intrigued by the possibilities to be found within. I first heard of this book when a memory competitor/athlete in the documentary film MEMORY GAMES referred to it in explaining how she first started to learn memory techniques. That alone was reason to put this book at the top of my “must read list”, because who couldn’t use a little help with their memory these days.
While mnemonics has gotten more sophisticated over time, the study and development of systems for improving and assisting the memory is more than two thousand years old and was widely practiced in the ancient world.
“What our early human and hominid ancestors did need to remember was where to find food and resources, and the route home, and which plants were edible and which were poisonous.”
Fortunately, MOONWALKING WITH EINSTEIN lives up to it’s intriguing title and is far from your average, dry how-to. This book is witty, engaging, and enlightening. Foer weaves current research with historical memory techniques; brings to life a cast of vibrant historical characters and eccentric modern day “mental athletes”; all while documenting his hero’s quest to win the United States Memory Championship.
MOONWALKING WITH EINSTEIN is an excellent example of entertaining journalistic storytelling at it’s best. Which is absolutely fitting since the secret technique of memory training is basically a form of storytelling — the more vivid the better.
“The principle underlying all memory techniques is that our brains don’t remember all types of information equally well. As exceptional as we are remembering visual imagery, we are terrible at remembering other kinds of information, like lists of words or numbers.”
Using a type of embedding system called a “memory palace”, you create vivid story images to represent the information you don’t want to forget and then mentally populated them within a well-known (to you) location. In this way the information becomes not only memorable (because of images) but also retrievable because you can walk your mind through the location to find it.
All of this is way easier to do, than it is to explain in a short post. It’s also a whole lot of fun to practice. And, it does work — 4 months and counting.
“To the extent that experience is the sum of our memories and wisdom the sum of experience, having a better memory would mean knowing not only more about the world, but also more about myself.”
MOONWALKING WITH EINSTEIN was published in 2012, but it is still relevant and entertaining. And if it is new to you — check it out and see if you have the potential to be a memory athlete too.
Oh, and thank you Joshua Foer. Well done!